People Leave Managers... Not Organizations
Chapter Two: Motivation at Work
“There is so much apathy around here I’m
getting to the
point where I just don’t care anymore!”
Beer Bust and Softball
Early in my career, I was assigned to manage an industrial facility that had a
reputation for poor performance. My task was to turn the place around. My
organization was very helpful: a couple of organizational development specialists
were assigned to assist with some interviews during my first two weeks to collect
data about the issues at this facility. After the data were formatted into a 200-page
report complete with executive overview it was apparent that there were three
major problems: (1) lack of employee morale, (2) extremely low productivity, and
(3). disrespect for authority.
It was very useful having this two weeks’ worth of work condensed for my
analysis. However, I also remembered my first day at the facility and what I
learned from simple observation. Reading what was written on restroom walls
indicated a low level of morale, reviewing the lapse in any preventative
maintenance program foretold of poor productivity, and the cynical comments
and rudeness from employees hinted at a lack of respect for authority.
Nonetheless, a two-week, 200-page report that validated my perceptions was a
benefit that no manager could ignore!
At the time, I had had all sorts of supervisory and management training on how
to lead and manage people. I knew from seminars and from the popular
management books that the job of employee morale fell into the lap of the
manager. Over the years, I had seen manager after manager be called upon to
raise morale at the first sign of unhappy employees. The popular theme from the
books was “happy people are productive people;” the seduction of this phrase was
too tempting to resist. My mission was clear: if we were going to be productive,
we must begin by building morale. So my challenge unfolded in the typical
With the assistance of one of the organizational development specialists, we had
a management team meeting to determine the first steps in building
We brainstormed many ideas, put posters all over the room, sent some ideas to “parking lots” (wherever those lots were), and debated and discussed various
approaches for hours.
In the early afternoon, one of my junior managers came up with the idea of
having a beer bust and softball game for everyone. Upon hearing his idea, my
own motivation and morale began to climb. I love softball and beer. This was a
great idea, and one that nobody could possibly argue with. Since I was the leader
and had veto power over ideas, I immediately declared this to be our first step. So
it was to be, a beer bust and softball game for all.
There is only one thing worse than a disgruntled, unmotivated, sober employee: a disgruntled, unmotivated, drunk employee with a baseball bat!
Of course we had to order people to
attend, which I now look back on as
an interesting morale issue itself. I
must have been insane, believing
that anyone could mandate fun, not
to mention mandating high morale
at work! In carrying out my plan to
win people over with my morale boosting day, I learned a leadership lesson that
has been with me ever since and has forever shaped my thinking on the issue of
Looking back, I now understand that this morale boosting attempt was nothing
more than a bribe. And people know when they are being bribed! Many didn’t
come to work the next day (hung over
perhaps…gosh, should have held it on
a Friday!). Morale, productivity, and
respect did not improve in any way.
And to make matters worse, employees
demanded another beer bust and game
a couple of months later!
Morale isn't something that can be bought.
The work environment has to provide people with
opportunities to success, to do their best, to
be trusted, to be valued, and to be respected.
Then morale and productivity can take place.
To be honest, I was angry, angry with
the employees at their ungratefulness.
I gave them a morale day and they
gave me back nothing and demanded
another beer bust and game. It wasn’t
until several months later, failing in
every manner to make a positive
impact at my new facility, that I began
to see the error of my ways. The
beginning happened after work one
day when one of my mid-level
managers (who had been there forever) decided it was time for a talk. He told me
that I couldn’t buy motivation or productivity. He said what the people needed
was what had been taken away over the years—involvement, participation, a
sense of achievement and contribution, and appropriate decision making and
control over tasks and assignments.
I would like to say that the facility was turned around quickly with this insight.
However, the destruction of trust and the manipulation that had happened made
the process of change require a couple of years to complete. Over time, however,
a huge leadership lesson was learned. By giving people their jobs back and
creating a work environment that provided meaningful participation and dignity
to everyone’s job, things began to turn around.
Moments of Insanity
When we look at the traditional carrot-and-stick theory of motivation, we must
admit that it does not work well, if at all, once people have reached an adequate
subsistence level regarding their needs. Beyond health, food, clothing, and
shelter, people tend to be motivated by higher level needs. Management cannot
provide people with the respect of others, self-respect, a sense of achievement, or
pride. It can only create working conditions that provide opportunities for people
to seek these things out for themselves. Why then do we continue to try to bribe
or punish our way to superior performance? There is certain insanity present
when we attempt to do something with a practice that won’t work.
To understand what truly motivates individuals to do their best, to give their
discretionary effort, we must acknowledge that many of the past accepted
motivational practices are in direct conflict with human nature. In many cases,
the application of these practices is akin to digging channels uphill to increase the
For example, a manager identifies performance difficulties with employees.
Knowing that the employees know how to perform the tasks in question, the
manager assumes a motivation problem and begins to apply motivational
techniques in order to improve performance. What to do?*
• Donuts in the morning?
• A Friday pizza party?
• An employee of the month program?
• Letters of recognition?
• Monetary awards?
* Hopefully not a beer bust and softball game.
Recognition is a motivator...
but it lacks impact when respect, trust, personal contribution, and meaningful participation in the work are missing! Perhaps management uses recognition first because it is easier and doesn't require looking in the mirror!
All of these choices assume that people need
to be fixed—that there is something wrong
with them. Where is the evidence? Where is
the test of that theory? There is no evidence or
test—only managerial knee-jerk assumptions.
Any of the above choices won’t work
(although the goodies will be accepted by
employees), because none of these changes
any elements of the work environment.
Let’s review the beer bust and softball game
scenario to critique these motivational practices. By choosing a beer bust and
softball game to solve the morale problem, the unquestioned cause-and-effect
determination is made; namely, the cause of low morale was the absence of beer
and softball! We can cite for certain that we have never heard employees complain
that the cause of poor morale was the lack of beer and softball. However, by
applying the prescription (beer and softball) to the situation (low morale), a
remedy was used that had no relationship to the cause of the situation! This
approach is insane, malpractice indeed!
Understanding cause and effect is the managerial leverage when attempting to
manage and inspire superior performance. Jumping to a conclusion based on
assumptions about cause and effect will provide the manager with a much worse
situation than the one being affected. By using the beer bust and softball game
approach, management was allowed to ignore the underlying working conditions
and relationships that were in fact (and most often always are) the cause of the
poor performance situation at the facility.
Do we really believe that lack of goodies is the reason that people don’t give their
best effort at work? Do we really believe that recognition and praise for
performance can instill pride when people don’t own the work they do, aren’t
involved in a meaningful way, don’t feel respected and trusted, and don’t feel they
personally influence the outcomes of their tasks or assignments? Let’s stop this
insanity and begin to dig deeper to understand the true nature of people’s
motivation in the workplace.
Rick Tate and Dr. Julie White 17
Recognition is a motivator…
but it lacks impact when
respect, trust, personal
contribution, and meaningful
participation in the work are
missing! Perhaps management
uses recognition first because it
is easier and doesn’t require
looking in the mirror!
I Mean You No Harm
Years ago, David Berlo suggested the phrase “I mean you no harm” as advice to
management regarding the type of work environment that is conducive to high
performance. The phrase came from trainers at Sea World who, when asked how
long they swam with new whales in the pool before the training began. replied, “Until the whale knows we mean it no harm.” They know that, once whales
believe that they are in an environment of no harm, they will relax and perform.
This concept seems so fundamental and obvious. Perhaps it is because of this that
we so often overlook the signs of harm that work life can communicate to
I Mean You No Harm
Now we know that reality prevents
managers from “swimming” with their
employees before job responsibilities
begin. However, managers can commit
to removing the harmful elements of
work life so that fear, intimidation, and
overt stress are eliminated. Managers can begin to build relationships with
employees that are grounded in trust, respect, fairness, equity, dignity, and
sincerity. Regardless of how many goodies management provides to motivate or
reward people, these treats fall flat without an environment of no harm. No
amount of money (although gladly accepted) can make up for a work
environment that lacks the necessary manager-employee relationship qualities.
And beer busts only serve to accelerate the blatant complaining about the poor
quality of the workplace.
Managers need to adopt an approach to managing people that says, “I mean you
no harm.”. This is the foundation for motivation and desire at work. The
manager’s creed should be to never do personally anything that will destroy trust,
suggest favoritism, show discrimination or disrespect to people or their jobs, or
The Law of the Hog
There are consequences for neglecting the work environment and the
performance and motivational issues necessary for meaningful participation.
Years ago, a friend named Kerry Patterson wrote an article entitled “The Law of
I Mean You No Harm
18 People Leave Managers…Not Organizations!
the Hog.” While he was conducting interviews during a consulting contract with
a lumber company, evidence of employee mistreatment, both physical and verbal,
came to light. The employees, working for a company in a remote location in an
environment sort of like a company-owned town, were apathetic about their
situation, realizing that they had no other employment choices. However, during
one interview with a 20-year employee on the mill floor, information was shared
which shed more light on the intolerable leadership situation.
The Law of The Hog
Predictable employee behavior as a result of mistreatment and nonparticipation
This employee said the way the
employees got back at management was
to “feed the hog.” Now the hog was a big
piece of machinery, with large sharp
teeth, that ground scrap lumber into
sawdust. (Visions of supervisors being
thrown into the hog appeared.)
The employees would find ways to get good raw product into the hog when
supervisors weren’t looking. Sometimes there
was competition among employees,
with the winner (the one who got the most good lumber into the hog) treated to
beer by other employees at the local saloon after work. Doesn’t this seem like
performance management—the most lumber into the hog (goals and objectives),
who got the most in the hog (measurement), and beer for the winner (reward for
- Organizational sabotage
- Malicious compliance
- Vicious compliance
- Poor attitude with customers
- Quit and stay
- Quit and leave
When you think about it, every
organization has a hog. Shrinkage,
organizational sabotage, stealing, and
absenteeism are forms of the hog.
Malicious compliance, doing only what
you are told to do—nothing more
nothing less—is a form of the hog.
Vicious compliance, doing exactly what
you are told, with enthusiasm—when
you know it will fail—is a form of the
hog. And the hardest one to measure—
poor attitude with customers—is
another form of hog behavior. The
degree to which the hog gets fed in
organizations is a result of the quality of
leadership and management practices.
The Law of the Hog
Predictable employee behavior as a
result of mistreatment and nonparticipation.
Patterson’s article identified the hog as a metaphor for predictable behavior when
people feel mistreated, disenfranchised, and nonparticipating. Because of the
predictable nature of people under these circumstances, it is an organizational
law. Fail to attend to the performance needs and meaningful participation of
others and be prepared to face the hog.
Productive People Are Happy People!
Beer busts and softball games don’t motivate people to do good work. Employee
of the month programs raise more cynicism than productivity. The hog gets fed
in spite of monetary bonuses or profit sharing. The challenge is clear: motivation
to perform comes from within, and that motivation won’t be bought with
extrinsic and material lures. And if there is a bribe involved, the unintended
consequences are profound. Bob Nelson, noted author and expert on rewards
and recognition refers to the bribery technique for motivation as “wreck
ignition.” We concur!
The motivation to perform comes from a work environment that allows people
to be productive, to achieve, and to participate in a meaningful manner. The
research, both empirical and face-valid, has long supported this notion. For
example, Fredric Herzberg illustrated the difference between what things turned
people off (dissatisfiers) and what things turned people on (satisfiers) in the work
environment. His landmark work indicated that the absence of dissatisfiers did
not lead to satisfaction and motivation, only resulting in people being “not
dissatisfied.” His research indicated that people would be dissatisfied
(unmotivated) when issues such as pay, status, policies, working conditions, and
interpersonal relations were in question. However, he noted that performance
motivation (satisfaction) comes only with the presence of the ability to achieve,
challenging work, increased responsibility, opportunities for growth and
development, and recognition for accomplishment. A critical conclusion can be
drawn: happy people are not necessarily productive, but productive people are
Indicators for Employee Productivity and Retention
- Clear performance expectations
- Materials and equipment to do the work right
- The opportunity to do what I do best
- My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
- My opinions count
- In the last seven days, I have received recognition for good work.
Herzberg’s work was validated later by
Lawrence Lindahl. When Lindahl posed
the question to managers about what
they believed motivated employees at
work, the managers responded with
issues of pay, bonuses, benefits, time off,
and such. When Lindhal posed the same
question to workers themselves, the
responses were much different. Workers
responded with issues such as making a
difference, responsibility, challenging
work, achievement, and recognition.
Again, the message is clear: the road to
happiness at work is through
productivity and performance.
Recently, the Gallup organization cites
key indicators that lead to employee
productivity and employee retention.
These indicators are all related to
performance issues and the means for employees to do good work and contribute.
There is nothing in the Gallup research that validates extrinsic motivation
techniques as the leverage for superior performance, productivity, and retention.
In the face of years of research, you may wonder why we continue to ignore what
we know to be true. Perhaps it is because many books and seminars still put forth
axioms that lead us to believe that the road to superior performance is through
morale lifting programs. Perhaps it is because it is easier. Focusing on building a
performance environment where people’s contributions make a difference, where
people have the conditions that allow them to be their best, and where employee
involvement is routine requires attentive leadership that takes time, patience, and
practice. It is much easier to simply throw a party!
So, Beware the Seduction
Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with a beer bust and softball game; it just
doesn’t motivate people to perform well. Why? It’s ineffective because its absence is
not the reason that motivation to perform is lacking. When a motivating
environment is created, people enjoy a party or get together, of course, but as a “thank-you” or a “breather.” However, when the party is used to get something from
employees, it not only fails to work, but it usually backfires, making things worse.
There is nothing wrong with praise, recognition, and rewards; they just don’t
motivate when they are used to get something in return (i.e., strings attached).
When people are contributing and productive, then praise, recognition, and
rewards that are used as a sincere thank-you and a show of appreciation for good
work already performed are welcomed. The trick is not to confuse the parties,
praise, recognition, and rewards with the practices that lead to the type of
performance that deserves parties, praise, recognition, and rewards.
The confusion can lead to work conditions that not only do not improve
performance results, but make matters worse. Consider employee-of-the-month
programs. Our experience with employee assessments indicates that these
programs not only fail to do what they are intended, but create undesirable
emotions in the workplace. The following example serves to illustrate our point.
While checking into a hotel on a business trip, we noticed twelve pictures
(employees of the month) in a circle on the perimeter of a nice mahogany plaque
behind the front desk. We consider these situations as research opportunities; the
dialogue with the young lady who checked us in went as follows:
Motioning to the plaque behind her, “Is that your company recognition
Turning and looking and then responding with little emotion, “Oh that, yea.”
Noticing that all twelve pictures on the plaque were different, “I wonder if
you would mind if I asked a question?”
“Can you tell me why no employee has his or her picture up on the plaque more
Looking at us as if we had just arrived on the planet, “Well, you can’t win
it more than once.”
Asking in a curious manner, “You mean no matter how well you perform, you
can’t win it more than once?”
Responding as if we were totally clueless, “Sir, what makes you think this
(pointing at the plaque) has anything to do with performance?”
Still curious, “Well, another question then…that picture in the middle of the
twelve, the employee of the year…you would think to win employee of the year
you would have to be good enough to have won employee of the month in at
least one month!”
Shaking her head, “Probably just his turn.”
And still pursuing obvious answers, “One last question…how do you win
With a blank expression, “I really have no idea.”
Let’s analyze this conversation.
Management creates a program,
employee of the month, to single out
and recognize outstanding performance.
The people who receive the
reward don’t believe the award has anything
to do with performance. The
outstanding employee of the year didn’t
perform well enough to win
employee of the month in any one
month. And people don’t know what
the criteria for winning the award
might be. This is not a recognition
program—it a program for creating
cynicism! Again, insanity rules the day.
Your Recognition Programs
- Can people win more than once?
- Does it recognize those who help and assist?
- Do people know the criteria for winning?
- Is it a thank-you or a bribe?
- Does it foster cooperation or competition?
- Is the winner’s circle restricted to a population of more than one?
Now you might be thinking that we merely ran into a disgruntled employee. Well,
this lady had a great attitude and her performance at the front desk was above
average. But really, to rationalize this situation by focusing on the employee’s
reaction is to deny the morass of evidence regarding programs of this type. Look
around and see all the plaques that have outdated pictures (the program died on
the vine) or that have not been kept current. Talk to employees when you run into
these programs and elicit their reactions. No, this is the norm; it is not unusual.
Not only that, organizational leaders are constantly calling for more teamwork
and cooperation between employees. Then they create recognition programs that
single out employees for recognition. Do we really believe that performance by
individuals in an organization is done without the help and assistance of others?
Do we really believe that we have the kind of metrics that allow us to determine
who is best in most jobs in any one month, much less for any one year? Why do
we cry out for cooperation and then continually create programs that celebrate
individual performance at the expense of others, restrict the winners’ circle to
one, and influence employees to compete against each other for limited
recognition? Do we really believe this creates the kind of emotions and behaviors
that lead to superior, team-oriented performance?
At Sea World, there is no Whale-of-the-
Month program. The conditions are set up
for each whale to perform at his or her best.
They do. Each whale understands what is
expected, the materials and equipment are
provided so each whale can perform at his or
her best, instances of recognition given for
good work are always much less than seven days apart, and there are trainers who
truly care about the whales. There is enough fish, squid, and recognition for every
whale, and it is well earned.
Organizational performance is the measure
of leadership. Within ethical and legal
A Leadership Method That Influences
- Superior Performance
- Employee Initiative
- Individual Responsibility
- Growth and Development
boundaries, managers and supervisors are
tested on how well they inspire and
influence the performance of their direct
reports. In looking at managerial ability, the
test is clear. Can employees perform well,
stand on own two feet, achieve, contribute,
and make a difference? Is managerial
recognition of employee performance based
on employee accomplishment, not a bribe
for future performance? To create a
motivating performance environment,
managers need a leadership method that influences individual responsibility,
superior performance, and meaningful contribution.
Want to Buy This Book?
"People Leave Managers... Not Organizations" (164 pages) by Rick W. Tate and Dr. Julie White can be purchsed securely, quickly, and easily via Amazon.com. Click here to make your purchase now...!